American lefty drawing on father's experience ahead of Wimbledon debut

The 2023 season has been a year of firsts for Ben Shelton.

First Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open. First time being outside the United States. First professional matches on clay and grass. And now perhaps the most exciting of all: first appearance at Wimbledon.

“It’s been pretty cool to see this place for the first time,” World No. 36 Shelton told “Just seeing the green grass at the bottom of the stadium is pretty cool… We don't have much grass in the United States. So to see these perfectly manicured courts and the huge stadiums is nice. And it’s a pretty cool site architecturally.

“Before I played Queen’s I came here for three days and practised some at Aorangi. That was always the plan as I’d never played on grass before. So it was really good to get here and kind of get my feet wet and start feeling the movement and playing. That’s really helped me in my short development on the grass courts so far.

“I haven’t done too much sightseeing yet. It’s pretty much been a business trip.”

Along with his mother and physio, Shelton is at Wimbledon with his father and new head coach Bryan, for whom Ben played under during two years at the University of Florida. Bryan won more than 100 matches and two titles during his own ATP Tour career.

Ben’s Wimbledon debut as the No. 32 seed against Japanese lucky loser Taro Daniel may be slightly less daunting than that of his father, who played Boris Becker in the first round in 1989. A year later Bryan pushed World No. 1 Ivan Lendl to four sets in the third round. He took Becker to four sets in his next appearance in 1992 before his best run in 1994 to the fourth round, where he fell 10-8 in the fifth set to Christian Bergstrom.

“He has a lot of memories of Wimbledon, whether it be playing a top guy on a big court or making a great run himself,” Ben said. “He’s had some great experiences that really propelled his career and helped him a lot. It has always been one of his favorite tournaments to play, so it’s fun that the first swing he’s out on tour with me is the grass-court season.”

Ben eclipsed his dad’s career-high Pepperstone ATP Ranking of 55 in January after his Australian Open breakthrough, and in the years ahead he seems likely to top Bryan’s 9-6 record at the All England Club. But there’s still plenty that he can learn from his dad, who recently replaced Dean Goldfine as his primary coach.

“There's a lot of things that my dad knows about me that not a lot of people know,” Shelton said. “He knows my game well and he knows what makes me tick. So to be able to work with him out here, one-on-one and have his expertise and his knowledge, along with the relationship that we've had all these years with him coaching me, it's a real privilege.”

Shelton had never played a match on grass before his first-round win over countryman J.J. Wolf at Queen’s, but says that he is quickly becoming comfortable on the surface. Last week he pushed eventual champion Christopher Eubanks to a third-set tie-break in the first round in Mallorca. And his booming lefty serve on grass is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

“A lot of pieces of grass-court tennis really suit my game,” Shelton said. “Some of the advantages that I have playing on grass have kind of offset a little bit of my inexperience. I think that I've done a really good job being pretty competitive in the matches that I've played so far, and it's only going to get better.

“I’m not trying to do too much different on my serve; the main thing is just continue to use the variety that I have. The grass really helps grab the ball and make it move more. So the more that I can vary my type of serves and the movement that the ball has, the more effective I am as a server.”